On a day where Augusta National showed its teeth after some of the most inviting scoring conditions ever in 2015, Spieth stuck to the exact same script as last year. In 2015, he gained most his 19 stroke scoring advantage on the field with great approach shot play and his always fantastic putter. This time out, he was brilliant again with his irons – gaining a field best 3.4 strokes on the field on approach shots – and again out-putted most of the competition by gaining 3.7 strokes on the greens (3rd best of the day).
So much of playing well at Augusta National is knowing where to play shots to get close to the pins. Spieth entered the Masters in the middle of the PGA Tour pack in approach shot performance after playing at a top 20 level last year. He rebounded today. Not only did he hit it well in steady wind, but he and caddie Michael Greller showed their course preparation was again a cut above the field. Add in a dash of Spieth’s green reading magic and the result is a bogey free score of 66 (versus 74.1 average) – nearly the equal of last year’s opening round 64 (versus 73.4 average).
Spieth’s first round play wasn’t overly dependent on par 5 scoring (-2 on the day), which could be a benefit in tougher conditions this year. In recent Masters, scoring on the par 5s has gotten increasingly easy with the field setting a record for scoring under par at 4.58 strokes per hole in 2015. Thursday, par 5 scoring only reached 4.82 strokes per hole – the highest first round par 5 scoring since 2007 when Zach Johnson wedged his way to the green jacket. The normally reachable 15th hole forced lay-ups by nearly 80% of the field and scoring ballooned from 4.64 in the first round last year to 5.06 strokes.
Whether these conditions hold throughout the event, once again Jordan Spieth is in position to dictate the next three days. There’s plenty of talent chasing him, but combine his top three in the world ability with his course specific preparation and a two shot lead and betting odds show him with at least a 30% chance to win after the first round. Spieth looks well on his way to passing another Augusta test and answering any doubt he would defend his title.